“I like Lupul.”
-Doug MacLean, proud owner of a .406 point percentage in six years as GM of the Columbus Blue Jackets
It’s kind of interesting to see the reaction to the Oilers’ trade of Joffrey Lupul and Jason Smith for Joni Pitkanen, Geoff Sanderson and a 2009 3rd round pick in the Sun – Terry Jones is decidedly more negative about this move than he was about the Smyth deal. He seems to think that the fans will agree with that position. I’m actually completely the opposite – while the Smyth trade was abhorrent, I’m ok with this move. While it’s sad that another key piece of the Oilers 2006 Stanley Cup leaves town, I think that this was probably a good trade and definitely the sort of trade that makes sense for the Oilers, given their circumstances. The quote from Lowe in the Oilers press release really says it all:
“We are pleased to have Joni and Geoff join the Oilers. Joni is a talented young defenceman with a proven track record. He possesses the offensive skills we have been seeking on the blueline and look forward to having him in the lineup. Geoff brings a long list of accomplishments to the Oilers, foremost is the experience and leadership he possesses as a veteran of the NHL.”
“As happy as we are with the addition of Pitkanen and Sanderson, it is difficult to see Jason leave us. Jason has been an exceptional leader and member of the Oilers and has served proudly as our team captain. He and Wendy have also served this community very well and their contributions to the City of Edmonton will have a lasting effect.”
To close the book on this particularly horrific chapter of Oilers history, here are Lupul’s numbers over the past three years:
Those numbers are just bad. Three things that I want to highlight that are of interest to me. The first is his ES shooting rates, the second his ES shooting percentage and finally his 2006-07 PP shot rate. One would have thought when the Oilers traded for him that they understood why he had a big goal scoring year and had a plan to replicate the conditions. I didn’t watch enough Anaheim games in 2005-06 to know why his ES shot rate went through the roof, so it’s hard for me to comment intelligently on this. The other point of note is his ES shooting percentage – that’s a pretty consistent three years. It’s also a low ES shooting percentage for someone who is theoretically a first shot scorer (which may well be a close relative to the unicorn, for as much as we’ve seen either in Edmonton in the past 20 years). Finally, note his PP shot rate for this past season – down significantly from years past. I could see his ES goal production rebounding slightly – I’ll never understand how he was going to be a big shooter on a PP that works from the right side of the ice. The only reason his PP goal rate wasn’t in the toilet was the spike in PP shooting percentage – had he stayed in Edmonton, things could well have gotten worse on the goal scoring front for him. Those PP goal differential rates were simply unacceptable for someone who’s supposedly an offensive player. Put simply, Joffrey Lupul isn’t good enough at the things he needs to be good at to be a good NHL player.
One other thing that I should mention – his ES goal differential. Although he hovered around evens in Anaheim, that was with top notch goaltending – the Ducks finished 3rd and 12th in ES save percentage in his two years there. Edmonton was 25th this year in ES save percentage and Lupul’s numbers were completely in the toilet. I have a hard time envisioning Philly as any better than league average in that regard next year – absent some phenomenal linemates who do the work in terms of puck possession, he’s going to put up another red number.
I’m thrilled to see him leave. I acknowledge that, at some point, my dislike for this guy crossed the line from rational (although there are many, many rational reasons to loathe him) to completely irrational. His year in Edmonton was marked by a Yashinesque lack of passion and a distaste for anything involving physical play – I remain convinced that he would pull up in foot races to avoid winning the race and taking the hit. His contract was absurd, given what he contributed and he strikes me as one of the most passive individuals I’ve ever seen associated with a hockey team – things just happen around him and he accepts them. He doesn’t try to make things happen on the ice, he just allows them to happen to him and the results are what the results are.
Obviously, he’s not what the Oilers somehow thought was. Trading him shows that they were willing to acknowledge that. I credit Kevin Lowe with acknowledging his mistake but acquiring him and signing him to that absurd contract in the first place was such a grievous error that it’s still hard to see that as one that shouldn’t be a firing offence. His rates were so poor, even during his big year, that the reason to be excited about him didn’t show up there. The decision to trade for a right handed shooter, with poor PP rates, to play on a stationary PP quarterbacked by a right handed passer who likes to play on the off wing, was so bizarre that it made one wonder about the communication – if any – between the GM department and the coaching staff.
Covered In Oil kind of said what I was thinking with respect to the return of Geoff Sanderson for Lupul – the same player, just ten years further along in his career. I’m not sure how fair that is but in the broad picture sense of bouncing around from bad team to bad team, I think it’s very accurate. I’ve got no idea who Sanderson played against the past few years but, given that he was playing on teams with horrible goaltending in Philly and Phoenix, I’m kind of mildly optimistic that he can be stashed away in a fourth line spot and help form a fourth line that doesn’t get slaughtered at ES. I wouldn’t get too worried about last year’s big EV- rate; Philadelphia’s goaltending put up a nifty little .891 ES save percentage. Assuming that he had that save percentage when he was on the ice, the difference between than and the Oilers terrible .909 ES save percentage knocks about a .6 goals off his EV- rate. Let him play against nobodies with the bottom line on a team that’s in significantly less disarray than the Flyers were…I’m optimistic.
More importantly, his playing time isn’t going to be dictated by his perceived role as a key part of the future of the team, something that was obviously driving Lupul’s time for a while last year. He’ll slot in down the chain and that’s ok – there aren’t going to be face issues associated with that. I’m not sure yet how the Oilers fourth line will shape up but I think Sanderson is an interesting addition to it. My only concern is if he’s been playing against nobodies already, in which case he might be a bit of a trainwreck.
Obviously, he’s a guy who can bring some offence to the table. His PP numbers, outside of last year, are genuinely encouraging. Looking at last year, he had an off year with the shooting percentage but he was around 11% for the two years prior so he seems a safe bet to bounce back. Particularly given his youth – young guys generally suck on the PP – he looks like a great addition to the PP. As a special gift to the fans from Oilers management to the fans, he actually shoots the right way to fit with a Hemsky run PP.
More excitingly, for a team that struggled to score goals at ES last year, he looks like the real deal as far as ES offence. Not so much an ES goal scorer, outside of the one spike season, but those assist numbers are phenomenal. 95th percentile in 2005-06, 90th percentile or so last season. Philly was a bad ES team last year, so he wasn’t just riding coat tails to do that either.
Vic Ferrari had a good post in September that highlighted which Flyers were playing the minutes against Jagr in 2005-06. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Pitkanen was well down the list – of the players Vic listed, Pitkanen was fourth amongst the defencemen, well after Hatcher, Desjardins and Rathje. Pitkanen’s ice time against the good players looks to have taken a bump last season, which may have accounted for some of the sudden increase in complaints about his decision making. He looks to have played much more significant minutes against the likes of Crosby and Jagr than he did the year before – my quick check of www.timeonice.com suggests that he played 82.6 minutes at 5v5 against those guys this year to 95.7 for Hatcher. That’s a significantly smaller gap than the year before. With the Flyers goaltending being what it was, it seems reasonable to view last year as a step forward.
Finally, Jason Smith. The numbers:
There’s not a lot that I’m going to tell people reading this site about Jason Smith. I was trying to think of a particularly memorable moment as an Oiler for him and it’s surprisingly difficult for someone who was here for so long. Two things that stick out for me. First, his skating style – I don’t think he approached anything within 20 degrees of vertical during his entire time in Edmonton. He’s one of those players you just recognize on the ice. Secondly, that goal that he scored against San Jose in G4 of 2006. For a guy who’s not a goal scorer, that was a pretty sweet snipe. I’ve taken a look online but couldn’t find it on YouTube, unfortunately. He’s a complete zero offensively, as the numbers show, but he’s exactly the type of player whose value won’t be borne out until somebody develops an accurate method of measuring strength of opposition. He was an asset mostly because of his contract I think – his move can be seen as Lowe’s first deadline dump of 2008. While I think that he’s a loss to the Oilers, with a year left on his contract, his 34th birthday coming up and the fact that he’s likely going to want to get a nice contract to retire on, the move made sense. He played an awful lot on the PK and while that’s going to be a big loss for the Oilers, with Roloson having posted big save percentages against the opposition’s PP the past few years, they might be better situated to withstand a year of some younger guys learning on the fly.
While it’s sad to see Smith go, this was a move that makes sense and one that shows the inklings of a plan, which I would argue that we haven’t seen in quite some time – for all the talk that the return for Pronger was indicative of a rebuild, a lot of the signings last summer were pretty schizophrenic, if that was the plan. Given Lowe’s (utterly shocking) failures to get any of the big UFA’s, I’d say that they’re looking a year or two down the road. Disappointing, to be sure, but it makes sense, given the corner he’s painted himself into and the players currently wandering around the Oilers dressing room.